In a year which has seen so many of us experience loss and grief, it’s no wonder why employers might be minded to think about how they would most appropriately allow staff to fully recover from personal tragedy.

With July 3rd marking National Bereaved Parents Day, we take a look at the ways in which business leaders can best approach this.

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Sadly, it’s a hallmark of this pandemic year, that so many of us will have witnessed the death of a loved one.

On a greater scale than any typical 12 month period, we’ll likely have marked the passing of a family member due to Covid, or as a consequence of treatment delays and the subsequent impact on healthcare.

This devastation is naturally felt hard in our workplaces, where colleagues share stories of their experiences, or where some employees feel unable to return immediately to duties.

And yet, while the vast majority of employers would naturally want to be a shining example of compassion and empathy toward all staff, it can be difficult to navigate a distressing period, and to know where the law stands in terms of allowing leave.

Much to the surprise of many business leaders, the current legal framework in the UK only requires bereavement leave to be granted in the case of a child under the age of 18.

More complex, however, is the fact that in the case of a stillbirth or miscarriage, there is NO legal requirement, although sick leave would be honoured for as long as a GP had signed the employee off.

What this tells us is that the picture is, at best, confusing, and at worst, incredibly lacking in compassion when you consider how much someone’s ability to function might be impaired by their grief.

Research by Sue Ryder recently revealed that some 7.9 million people in the UK experienced the death of a loved one in the 2019-2020 period, and they suggest workplace grief costs the UK economy some £23 billion a year.

As an employer, here are some of the top considerations you might want to reflect upon in the wake of this unusually challenging period:

  • Look at your current contracts and consider whether, in addition to the nationally set obligation, you might want to propose a period of grief-associated leave
  • Explore options for engaging a grief counselling / referral service, to whom you might helpfully refer employees if they should need it
  • Be sure to grant equal amounts of support in the face of grief to employees ‘working from home’ as those you see physically in the office
  • Avoid communicating to your workforce the details of a staff member’s tragedy – unless you have discussed this with them or they have requested you to do so
  • Don’t assume you know best for your member of staff. For some, it is quite possible they will regard it as helpful to have work as a practical focus during a challenging time
  • Continually remind your staff of the opportunity to confidentially discuss matters of personal significance to your HR Partner, or wellbeing service
  • Act appropriately and respectfully in any communication you maintain with your employee while they are out of the office due to grief
  • Respect the wishes of your staff member in respect of any funeral attendances or condolences gesture
  • Consider whether a close colleague might act as a close ‘buddy’ to the staff member, helping them feel particularly supported during a return to work

If you would like help revising contracts or expressing your compassionate culture within your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch with MAD-HR today.